"In the East, in the East, What is life without Chaikhana?...". Many people remember the words from this song and this is true. Uzbek people not only like to eat but also to cook delicious food. For the dear guest, the host rolls up his sleeves and begins preparing the aromatic and extremely delicious pilaw, brings it to dastarhan (table-cloth) and places the lyagan (big plate) before him.
All regions have their own traditional pilaw Tashkent, Djizak, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva pilaw. Each pilaw is unique and delicious in its own way. Pilaw is always accompanied by salads from fresh vegetables, syuzma and chakka (the special state of soured milk), because it is very fat and is rich in calories.
Pilaw can be cooked with heads of garlic, raisins, almonds, peas and quince. Putting the additional ingredient depends on the fantasy of the cook, who is, among people, respectively named "osh-paz".
The pilaw is always followed by hot, sizzling, but very pleasant green tea. Pilaw is a dish which makes you eat and eat it; only a full stomach can stop you, so you can have some rest.
In many hotels, especially in those of home-type, the hosts prepare the pilaw in kazan (an almost hemispherical cooking pot) before you and with your direct participation. But during sightseeing you will become the witness of its preparation in the streets near the restaurants, cafes and chaihanas. Only in Tashkent city there are several pilaw-centers that always are very crowded. And if you are late even for half an hour you will have to look for another cafe for having pilaw.
The main peculiarity of the pilaw probably is in its cooks, who are mostly men. While cooking Uzbek men are very lavish, they put ingredients more than needed, more meat and this is the major feature of Uzbek cuisine.
However, if you visit grocery stores in Tashkent, it may seem that the traditional food of Uzbek people is ravioli. But donlt get confused. The mants are the analogies of raviolis in Uzbekistan. They are steamed pasty cooked in a special pot and bigger than raviolis. Stuffing for mants is diced potato or cut meat with onion and spices. For preparing meat stuffing for mants meat is never minced, it is cut into tiny pieces. Only in this case the meat stays juicy and doesn't loose its aroma and flavor, which can be eliminated by the taste of metal or oiling of mincing- machine. Real mants, surely, are those that are homemade. But there are also restaurants and cafes, which cook mants in proper ways and if you decide to have some, get advice of yourtour guide.
You can't even imagine how tasty soups are in Uzbekistan the rich sorpa with mutton or beef. Sorpa is served in kosa (deep bowl) that is full of golden broth with the huge piece of meat, small cloves of potato and carrots. You need to eat sorpa when it is hot, otherwise the frozen fat won't allow you to enjoy the total taste of this godlike dish. You can add a dash of black pepper (not red one!) into the sorpa in order to increase its flavor and aroma.
In spite of arguments about the origin of macaroni, for sure, it was invented in the East.
Interlacement of traditions and cultures on the Great Silk Road can be observed even in cookery.
Taste Lagman ancestor of modern spaghetti in original cooking. The preparation technology of this long vermicelli is very difficult and masterly. It is hand-made, and if you will get lucky to watch the process of its preparation you will become the witness of the whole show with pasta which is impossible to repeat. Anyways don't even try to do it just sit at the table and taste this amazing dish. There are lots of places where you can have Uzbek and Uygur lagmans. The choice is up to you, but both of them are tasty and appetizing. There are some soups that are typical only for Uzbek cuisine. They are kurtova, shopirma, kakurum, sihmon. Their preparation is based on dairy products and they originated from nomadic ancestors of Uzbek people.
Definitely it is just impossible to give information about all dishes of traditional Uzbek cuisine, because only their description can take hundreds of pages of cookery books. That's why we will tell about major ones that you have to try for sure.
You will be amazed to see lots of snack-bars serving pastries in Tashkent. Most of them prepare and sell not only traditional pastries but also samsa. But real samsa is baked in a tandyr (a spherical clay oven) rather than in an electrical oven. The preparation of samsa and its laying in the tandyr is an art by itself. To place samsa in the clay wall of the tandyr and to be sure of its readiness requires some skills that are not given to just everyone. In many regions of Uzbekistan people bake flacky samsas. But only in Djizak you can taste Djizak samsa that is baked only in this region. It is as unique as Samarkand lepyoshka (round bread). But don't hurry to buy samsa in the market; the real one is prepared only in special chaihanas. Usually these chihanas are very crowded and people leisurely bite into each piece of samsa and enjoy its amazing taste. In mountainous regions of Djizak - Zamin and Bahmal they prepare tandyr-kebab. The cut carcass of mutton is placed in the red-hot tandyr, which is dig into the soil and covered with solid stuff. The secret of the flavor and long storage (up to 3 months) of tandyr-kebab is in fir-sticks that are put on the coal before placing the meat into the tandyr.
Also fish is popular in many places of Uzbekistan, especially in coastal regions along the lakes and rivers. Mostly this is fried, smoked or drycured fish.
And definitely don't forget about shashlyk, which is prepared in almost all cafes and restaurants. There are different kinds of shashlyk from mutton, beef, liver, fish, chicken, lump and ground shashlyk. Well - prepared shashlyk melts in your mouth leaving a pleasant warmth and flavor. Good shashlyks are prepared everywhere - Tashkent, Samarkand, and Gijduvan. Simply you should know the exact chaikhana where you can have real Uzbek shashlyk but not fake ones.
Finally, sweets, beverages and fruits are the customary attribute of Uzbek dastarhan. In Europe they are served for dessert after the main course, but in the East sweets are eaten twice, sometimes even three times - before, during and after the main course.
Tea is just as important as fruits, grapes, berries and melon during dinner in Uzbekistan. Dinner begins from having tea; tea is drunk after a rich meat appetizer and floury meals, especially after the second course; tea finishes dinner and is drunk with sweets. People from different regions prefer different kinds of tea. In most parts of Uzbekistan in the East and South (Samarkand, Namangan, Andijan, Fergana, and Kokand) people drink green tea, while in Tashkent and the Northern regions of Uzbekistan black tea is preferred. In Karakalpakstan (West of Uzbekistan) people drink both green and black tea but mostly with milk.
Other typical beverages prepared for Uzbek dastarhan are sherbets fruity syrup with sugar.
In general Uzbek sweets can be divided into six groups: kiyoms (fruity and vegetable syrups), bekmeses (concentrated fruit and berry juices as molasses), navvats (different types of crystallized boiled grape sugar with dyes and spices), and sweets based on raisins and nuts, and at last different halvahs and halvah-like sweet stuff.